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MANILA, Philippines – China has called on the Philippines to “eliminate interference” in its ties, as it expressed optimism that cooperation between the two countries would keep its momentum under a new Philippine administration.
In a recent face-to-face meeting held between Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi over the weekend, Wang pledged Beijing’s future support for key infrastructure projects and said China was ready to provide Filipinos with coronavirus assistance, including vaccines, should these be needed.
According to a readout of the meeting from the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang said “China always stays committed to prioritizing the Philippines in its neighborhood diplomacy.”
“The two sides should eliminate interference, and calmly and properly manage differences, so as to prevent the overall China-Philippines relations from being affected,” Wang added.
The meeting comes as the Philippines and its only treaty ally, the United States, held its largest military exercise in years. The two countries’ Balikatan exercise, scheduled to end on April 8, was the first to be held since President Rodrigo Duterte terminated – and later restored – Manila and Washington’s Visiting Forces Agreement – a crucial defense pact viewed as a deterrent to China’s expansionist claims in the region.
Just weeks before the meeting, tensions in the West Philippine Sea reignited over the incursion and dangerous maneuvers of Chinese ships in Philippine waters. In March alone, the Philippines protested the “close distance maneuvering” of a Chinese Coast Guard Ship in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), and summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian after a Chinese navy vessel intruded, and later lingered, in the Sulu Sea earlier this year.
The two sides discussed the South China Sea issue during the meeting. According to the Chinese foreign ministry, both countries “believe that maritime issues should be put in a proper place in bilateral relations.”
On China’s part, Wang said the country would take the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to “step up” consultations on a long-delayed binding code of conduct between Beijing and Southeast Asian states, including the Philippines.
China’s account of the meeting said Locsin mentioned that the Philippines was ready to “strengthen communication” and “make joint efforts” with China. The line is often mentioned by China, though the Philippines has continued to assert its position on the issue, emphasizing the 2016 Hague ruling and calling on China to abide by the award.
Staying on the ‘right track’
During the meeting, Wang also hailed Duterte’s “firm” pursuit of a “friendly policy” toward China, which brought relations “out of the trough and onto the right track.”
“I hope and believe that this right policy will be carried on, the friendship between the two peoples will continue to be carried forward, and the pragmatic cooperation between the two sides will maintain a strong momentum,” Wang said. (READ: China at 70: ‘Fantasy of cordial relations’ with the Philippines)
Locsin was cited as saying ties between the two countries were becoming “increasingly mature,” with “pragmatic cooperation” bringing benefits to both parties. He also praised China as a “responsible major country” and described its vaccine supplies as a “lifeboat” for the Philippines.
The two officials also discussed Myanmar and Ukraine, though little details were shared on the matter. The Department of Foreign Affairs has also yet to release a statement on the meeting.
Locsin’s visit to China was the third to be held since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020. Later this week, on April 8, Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to hold a meeting, which Malacañang said was initiated by Beijing. – Rappler.com